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The last thing you see is a guy with serious 'roid rage.

The Punisher: War Journal #1

The Punisher has always been the most one-dimensional vigilante in comics, and that might be why Punisher: War Journal #1 is so surprising. Frank Castle is still the gruff wad of scar tissue we’ve known all these years, but this new volume has more fun with the character than any story since Garth Ennis’ original relaunch of the franchise.

Things kick off when G.W. Bridge is asked to head a S.H.I.E.L.D. taskforce assigned to bring down Frank Castle. This follows one of The Punisher’s usual executions where the newly deputized Stilt-Man tries to beat Frank to the punch. Of course, Stilt-Man never was the sharpest needle on the cactus, so, even trying to do good, he winds up decimating the neighborhood.

And Frank just happens to have an anti-tank missile handy.

But this brings up an important question for Punisher: who retro-fitted Stilt-Man to do that much damage? When he nabs the Terrible Tinkerer, original creator of the suit, it turns out that the old man no longer has the taste for such things. Not after Stamford. So he points Frank in the direction of Stuart Clarke AKA Rampage; a man who knows a few things about Stark technology...

Probably the greatest achievement of Punisher: War Journal is that it isn’t just a story during Civil War. It’s a story BORN of Civil War.

The Punisher lives further outside the law than any other hero in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps too far. It’s one of the main reasons you don’t see him in most crossovers (the other being that a Viet Nam veteran with assault rifles isn’t gonna fare well against Magneto, Loki, Galactus, or Thanos).

This crossover fits him better than any other. When Bridge ponders why they’re having such a hard time capturing an un-powered loner, it occurs to him that, well, they kinda like him. Punisher does what the law wants to do but can’t. And that’s what Civil War should really be about: do you WANT people who can work outside the law to do the right thing? Are you prepared to live with the consequences of that?

Punisher: War Journal ties the character back into Civil War continuity, building up what leads to him meeting up with Spidey with probably the most entertaining Punisher story we’ve seen in years. It serves not only as an event but also the start of a damn enjoyable new series.

Like Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, Matt Fraction and Ariel Olivetti have tweaked the character just slightly and managed to make him a lot more fun again. At $2.99 for 30 pages of great art and story, it’d be a crime not to buy this one.

Jason Schachat

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